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WWII Naval Battle – The Cape

WWII Naval Battle – The Cape

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Published by James Bradley
The sinking of the Scharnhorst, Germany's majestic battleship
The sinking of the Scharnhorst, Germany's majestic battleship

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: James Bradley on Mar 27, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Kanook – October 7
, 2009
During the month of December in the North Atlantic a classic, if not screwedup naval battle took place between the Allied navies and the German Kriegsmaine(Navy), whereas the German’s were intent on attacking a convoy
, which haddeparted from Loch Ewe, Scotland on Dec 20
headed for the Russian Lola inlet, atotal of 19 merchant ships from America, Britain and one Panamanian escort oilernamed the
. Their escort consisted of four Corvettes, five Minesweepers,twenty-two Destroyers, five Cruisers and the battle ship Duke of York, all not at thescene at one-time but on and off from Dec 20
, to the 27
.On Wednesday the 22
the convoywas spotted by a JU-88 weather plane,relaying the information back to the basenearby – the Luftwaffe shadowed the convoynorthintodeteriorating weather while back in theNorwegian harbor of Narvik from his officeon the Aviso Grille, Hitler’s yacht, Kapitan-zun Rudolf Peters mobilized the operationalU-boats of the wolf-pack namedEisenbart.
Operation Ostfront 
hadbegun. When the course and speed of the “19 merchantmenhad beenconfirmed on Christmas Day, therewere eight submarines heading to apatrol line 135 NMs to the southwest of Bear Island.As it turned out the Eisenbartsubmarine group played a minor role inthe battle, but they did provide datathat affected its outcome. Analysis othe data shows that as time progressedin the North Sea, faulty navigation andpoor communications contributed significantly to the German’s failure to determinean accurate position of the convoy and the ultimate conclusion that resulted in thesinking of the famous German battle cruiser the
On Christmas Eve Kapitan-zun Rudolf Peters wrote in his diary, “The boats willbe in a position to get to grips with the convoy tomorrow morning.Some hourslater Otto Hansen a 25-year old Oberleutnant zur See on board the submerged U-601, picked up sounds of propellers and valves and pumps working. Waiting untilhe believed he was in a safe area, surfaced and at 0952 Christmas morning fired off a communication, “Run over by convoy in AB6720. Enemy steering 60 degrees.Hansen.”On Christmas Day, Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz signaled
: “Theenemy is attempting to aggravate the difficulties of our eastern land forces in theirheroic struggle by sending an important convoy of provisions and arms to theRussians. We must help”. The U-601s signal created feverish activity at the German command-post atKaafiord, Narvik and Kiel, whereas the
and several destroyers, underthe command of Konteradmiral (Rear Admiral) Erich Bay, put to sea at 1900 hours(7 PM) on Christmas Day from Altenfjord to intercept and attack the convoy. Theweather around Bear Island during their preparation for sea continued todeteriorate, turning into a violent storm originating in the south-west with heavyrain and showers of wind-blown snow, this causing the line of U-boats to toss andpitch wildly in the heavy seas, and operating with reduced visibility.
Scharnhorst 38,900 Tons, 773 ft by 99 ft, cruise speed 33 knots (38 mph)
Unfortunately their communications having been intercepted and decoded byBritish code-breakers resulted in the Admiralty to direct naval forces to intercept.Hansen in U-601 fought to maintain contact with the convoy wrote in hisdiary, “The weather worsens from hour to hour.” Periodically he would glimpseships in the darkness, twice having to ‘crash dive’ to avoid detection by theconvoy’s escort vessels.A few miles from Hansen’s position another young skipper of a the newlycommissioned U-716,
25-year old Hans Dunkelbert after 5-hours of surface steaming spotted a destroyerabout 9,800 feet from is submarine, he swung U-716 around and fired a T5 Gnattorpedo at the distant shadow – as it turned out the opening shot of the Battle of the North Cape. The only shot as far as any additional submarine action – he wrotein his diary, “Am being run over by destroyer, because of the rough seas a miss wasonly to be expected. Now the throb of engines and turbines are audible at varyingdistances. The sounds are all fading away to the east.Approximately at the same time a third submarine experienced a neardisaster. The U-636 under the command of Kapitanleutnant Hans Hildebrandt, whohad just had his 33
birthday on Christmas Eve, picked up the Otto Hansen’shoming signal and made ready to turn about when a succession of huge wavesbroke over the conning-tower and filled the U-636 with over 15-tons of ice-coldseawater. His diesel engine sputtered and died and the chlorine gas from hisbattery banks began to accumulate, battling his problem he sent off a message,“Because of the presence of a lot of chlorine gas am only just able to dive. Ambreaking off. Hammerfest!After restarting the diesel and airing out his boat, he set a course for FdU,Norway’s most forward base. Moored at the base was the 5,000 ton combinedpassenger and cargo ship the
Black Watch
, and a torpedo and supply carrier, theAdmiral Carl Hering, of Hammerfast. His slow and ponderous partly submergedpassage towards U-stutzpunkt Hammerfast he came across the convoy.Hildebrandt sent off a message, “At 1800-192 in AB6496 run over by eightcargo vessels and three escorts. Easterly course, 70 rpm. No contact. Poorlistening conditions. Visibility 800 meters (2,600 feet).” He made his report at 22hours (10 PM) that evening, however being careful he did not repeat his signal,which never reached FdU, Peters in Narvik monitored the situation with increasesanxiety. The
and her five escorts had been sailing for three hours headinginto the building storm and the Arctic darkness, and Peters knew from what littlereports his U-boats had reported that the already difficult situation was gettingworse, with no indication it was going to get any better appealed to his superiors inKiel and Berlin to cancel the attack. Unfortunately Grand Admiral Donitz hadpromised Hitler a victory and would not back off, whereas at midnight the messagefrom the Grand Admiral was short and sweet, “I have confidence in your will to fight.

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